Jan. 24, 2015
Contact: Steve Hedges
FREDERICK, MD – A new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) policy on sleep apnea set to take effect March 2 responds to many of the concerns raised by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the general aviation community.
The new policy will not disqualify pilots from receiving a medical certificate based solely on body mass index (BMI). Pilots believed to be at significant risk for the condition will receive a regular medical certificate and be required to undergo a follow-up assessment. Those who are diagnosed with the condition must receive treatment to continue flying.
“We appreciate the FAA’s decision to work with the aviation community to address concerns regarding sleep apnea,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “The new policy combines a focus on safety with a commonsense approach that lets pilots who haven’t been diagnosed with an illness keep flying.”
The issue of sleep apnea came to the forefront in 2013 when the federal air surgeon described a planned policy change in an FAA medical bulletin. Under the original FAA proposal, pilots with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater would have been required to undergo testing for sleep apnea by a board certified sleep specialist. The FAA said it planned to expand the policy to include all pilots with a BMI of 30 or greater.
But AOPA strongly objected to requiring thousands of pilots to go through expensive and intrusive testing based exclusively on BMI. The association and other aviation groups turned to Congress for assistance, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would have required the FAA to go through the rulemaking process before introducing any new policy on sleep disorders.
In December 2013, the FAA stepped back from its initial policy announcement and began working with stakeholders, including AOPA, to address concerns about sleep apnea.
Under the new policy, announced Jan. 23, 2015, the risk of obstructive sleep apnea will be determined through an integrated assessment of the pilot’s medical history and symptoms as well as physical and clinical findings. Aviation medical examiners will be provided with guidance from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to assist them in determining each pilot’s risk.
“The effectiveness of the new policy will depend on how aviation medical examiners implement it,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. “We continue to be engaged in this issue and we encourage AOPA members to tell us about their experiences once the policy takes effect.”
Pilots who are determined to be at significant risk will receive a regular medical certificate and undergo a sleep apnea evaluation. That evaluation can be performed by any physician, including the aviation medical examiner, and does not require a sleep study unless the physician believes one is needed. Pilots will have 90 days to complete the evaluation and forward the results to the FAA’s Aerospace Medicine Certification Division (AMCD), the Regional Flight Surgeon’s office, or the aviation medical examiner. Thirty day extensions will be available to pilots who need more time to complete the process.
If the evaluation does not lead to a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea, no further action will be required. Pilots who are diagnosed with the condition can send documentation of effective treatment to the AMCD or Regional Flight Surgeon to arrange for a special issuance medical certificate to replace the regular medical certificate issued previously.
Since 1939, AOPA has protected the freedom to fly for thousands of pilots, aircraft owners and aviation enthusiasts. AOPA is the world’s largest aviation member association, with representatives based in Frederick, Md., Washington, D.C., Wichita, Kans., and seven regions across the United States. AOPA provides member services that range from advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, flight planning products, safety programs and award-winning media. To learn more, visit www.aopa.org.
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